Welcome to O Gauge Train Repair. This website is dedicated to O-Gauge and larger model trains. Join us in the fun of model railroading. Barry Coulter is a Lionel factory trained authorized service professional.
History of model trains.
Model trains have been the Christmas delight of youngsters for many generations. From the most primitive replicas of the "iron horse" in the 1800s to the most sophisticated railroad sets of the today, trains have remained atop the Christmas lists of both the young and old.
Many boys and girls who were introduced to trains as young children have never lost their fascination with them, and still enjoy settling in to recapture childhood fantasies on a cold winter's day at home. For some, trains conjure up images of mystery and adventure while other folks simply enjoy the engineering challenges of the railroad era.
Steam engine trains and locomotives were not invented until the 1800s, but the basic idea of trains dates back much further in time. The ancient Romans developed a paved railway system for beast-drawn wagons. Then later, in the coal mining regions of England, horse-drawn wagons were built on the same basic idea to carry coal from the mines to river loading sites. Both of these are the predecessors of the modern trains of today.
During the 1800s, our countryside was laced with railroad tracks, bridging vast territories and making it possible for America to grow and prosper as a large united nation. Towns sprang up along these railways, and people all across America had the easy opportunity to relocate and build new lives anywhere they chose. The railroad provided easy means of transportation for both goods and services and quickly became "the heartbeat of America." Toymakers saw the potential market for model trains, as people everywhere were wanting a little piece of the action. Soon miniature replicas of these giant trains appeared on storekeepers shelves everywhere, especially during the Christmas Season.
The idea of collecting miniature railroads, however, did not start in America. German crafters in the 1830s made the very first miniature trains. These could be pushed along a track. They were made by pouring molten brass or tin into a mold, much like the popular tin soldiers were made. Hand-carved wooden fittings were fastened to the metal bases, creating a complete toy train. They were usually very fragile and contained no moving parts.
The French, who were the master tinsmiths, were responsible for making elaborately decorated toy trains with ornate designs, tall chimneys and spidery spoked wheels. They were gay and fanciful, but did not run on rails. Instead, they were pushed along the floor. Paint does not stick well to tin, and consequently, these early French beauties are rarely preserved with their original decorations.
England was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, and toymakers there took model train making seriously. Sir Henry Wood is credited with building one of the first steam powered toys. The "Dribblers" and "Piddlers" were nicknamed because of the tell-tail trail of water left behind from the steam cylinders.
It's interesting to note that European craftsmen who made musical instruments were the first to make toy trains. They soon began fitting their toy trains with clockwork mechanisms to eliminate the mess of the first steam powered versions. Highly complex brass models were made for the children of wealthy families by Newton & Co. of London. They were, however, neither realistic nor made to scale, and were primarily made to trigger the imagination of the collectors. These individually hand-crafted toy trains made in Europe were too expensive to be sold here in our nation. Toy manufactures in the U.S. had to mass produce train replicas economically to be competitive in our marketplace.
Mathias Baldwin, founder of the Baltimore Locomotive Works, made an early passenger train model in the 1830s. By the end of that decade, several other toymakers had produced their own versions. George Brown & Co., of Connecticut is credited with making the first known self-propelled American model train in 1856. It utilized clockworks.
American trains differed from European ones because they had to be durable enough to ship over vast areas of rugged wilderness and yet authentic enough to true collectibles. French trains were much too delicate to ship safely, and the German lead and wood trains along with the English "dribblers" were simply not sophisticated enough for the American market.
The American model was fashioned from heavy tin-plate. The locomotive (not the cars nor track) was made during the early 1800s. From 1860 to 1890, during "the golden age of American tin train making", many famous train makers gained the American limelight. They were: Ives; Hull & Stafford; Althof Bergman & Co; Francis, Field & Francis; and James Fallows.
From 1890s to the early 1900s, American toy companies produced train replicas at such reasonable prices that most middleclass families were able to buy model trains for their children. As the demand grew, American people began to expect more realism and authenticity from toy manufacturers.
It wasn't long until the American public cried out for more than just a simple locomotive. They wanted to buy complete train systems with tracks, passenger cars, stations and wagons.
Meanwhile, a German toy maker, Theodore Marklin, one of the most successful in Europe, introduced the first sectional track and figure-eight layout. Marklin is also credited with producing Europe's first electrical train set.
During the Paris Exhibition of 1900, another German toymaker, Stefan Bing, and a British firm, W. J. Bassett-Lowke formed a partnership and vowed to produce more authentic train replicas in Europe. Bing sparked public interest for model train collectors by distributing an assembly guide book called "The Little Railway Engineer".
As the gay nineties gave way to the turn-of-the-century, several legendary toy trainmakers emerged in America. Ives, Lionel and American Flyer made some of the most well-loved trains in American history. The Ives company, established in 1868, was famous for its catchy slogan, "Ives toys make happy boys" and was best known for high quality trains and excellent replacement service.
Lionel, established in the early 1900s by Joshua Lionel Cohen, produced the most legendary trains of all. The company began by making small electric motors to power electric trains, but shortly after World War I, became the biggest name in model train making. One reason for such success was that Lionel trains were more realistic than all the others, with powerful motors and rugged construction. They became the American standard of excellence for judging toy train manufacturers. In addition, Lionel painted their trains in bright, exciting colors, which stimulated buyers and collectors of all ages.
American Flyer burst into the model train market with larger and cheaper trains during the 1920s. Their elaborately decorated passenger trains were a huge success. The aggressive Lionel, however, outshined again by offering the American public more impressive models. American Flyer succumbed to Lionel in 1967.
After World War II, model trains became more detailed and functional. These are highly prized by collectors who actually want to run their trains. Men and boys gather today to set up layouts so elaborate and realistic that viewers are enchanted by these trains in action. They gather together with their families and friends to rekindle the love of "the railroad days" and sweet childhood memories. Whether we collect trains or not, the words Lionel and American Flyer tug at our hearts as we remember days gone by. For many, "the love of it all" first began -- under the Christmas tree at home.
Written by Linda L. Coulter and first published in Friends 'n Neighbors in 1993.
Keep your toy trains running smoothly with repairs and maintenance by O Gauge Train Repair, a Lionel factory trained authorized service station for o scale model trains. O Gauge Train Repair is owned and operated by Barry Coulter, a professional with over 40 years experience in mechanical repairs and maintenance.
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